It has been a beautiful autumn so far. Record warmth has postponed peak foliage around much of upstate and the Adirondacks. Autumn is the flamboyant show of nature that makes living here rather than Florida or Arizona worth it to many of us.
Still, there is a daunting sense of dread and even grief, that underlies autumn. So many birds disappear not to be seen at feeders or in thickets for six months. Leaves drop and their trees stand stoically naked in the wind. The friendly crunch of colorful dried leaves becomes sticky, wet debris to be removed with copious amounts of raking, blowing, and muttering.
Then one morning we walk out of the house and a strange sensation wraps its presence around us, cold. We have to dash back inside to get a jacket, and maybe a hat, when just the day before it was so pleasant. Meanwhile the wind has picked up and the idea of a quiet walk by a calm lake is something for another season well into the future.
We know it is silly to dread seasons changing because there is nothing to be done about it. Our four seasons and what each one brings has direct impact our lives, yet they are far beyond our control.
It is appropriate to notice the changes, of course, and relish them too. But dread? Grimace and cast woe into the wind just because October is fading and winter is near? It seems kind of like jousting at windmills. Yet we do it, and some folks are deeply and adversely affected by seasonal change.
I have been thinking about the political and social parallel to the seasonal sense of dread. No matter what side of the current and fierce cultural divide we are on, there is a general sense that things are changing all around us.
The Trump years culminating in the January 6th assault; running concurrently with the never-ending pandemic; and now, along with what I have come to think of as “the quiet Presidency;” all creates a sense of daunting powerlessness in the face of pervasive change. We look around and see screaming parents at school board meetings, or at our own City Council, and wonder what has happened to us. We witness horrid slander and online character assassination against ordinary citizens in public office, those doing mundane chores like the stewardship of elections, and wonder what has happened to us. All this violent rhetoric spewed in public and on social media, seems like the gathering of clouds for an impending storm.
Unlike the seasons of nature, whatever this season now threatening to arrive, is something we can influence. There is no doubt that what is happening in this cultural and political season is depressing and dreadful, but we are not limited to denial or anti-depressants. We can actually do something about what we sense is on the horizon of our nation. We can become activists, if we are not already. We can talk to every member of our social network to raise awareness of what is at stake — civility, freedom, and hospitality to the immigrant, sojourner, and stranger among us. We can speak up, speak out, and do all we can to lock arms, and actually change our culture and politics.We are powerless to change the seasons but not one another.
Tim Long, Just Up the Hill from Lock 15 says
Good afternoon, Cam. Your opening here brought me straight to Rilke’s “Herbst”, which I have from time to time memorized both in German and in the fine translation by Robert Bly. “… and in the night falls the heavy earth, through all the stars in the loneliness. We are all falling.” I think that your straight-up closing observations here, echoed in your current piece as well, does challenge the Rilke’s closing that we are endlessly, gently held in the hands of “Einer” (The One), given the strained state of our relationships. And; recently an anecdote has come to mind from a field in Normandy, early June of ’44, where a paratrooper, separated from his platoon and wandering aimlessly, acknowledges to an old sergeant that he’s frozen with fear. The story goes, and I’ve heard variations of this elsewhere, that the old-timer puts his hands on his shoulders, looks him in the eyes and says, “look, son; you were a dead man the minute you stepped into that airplane. We all were. And the sooner you accept that, the sooner you can do the job you were sent to do.” Which echoes, oddly for me, with the closing charge from the Order of Service, that we are “to go forth to do the work we were given to do.”
We are in just such a space, I think, where our charge, as you observe here, is to speak out, offer hospitality to the sojourner and the lost, say no to fear and “otherizing”, and to do the job we’ve been given to do. So, it’s chill and rainy here in NW Illinois, and maybe Rilke, after all, is relevant:
“The leaves are falling,
falling as if from afar;
as if wilted from Heaven’s distant gardens.
They fall as if exclaiming “No”.
And in the night falls the heavy Earth,
Through all the stars in the Loneliness.
We are all falling.
This hand here is falling.
And look at the other; it is in everything.
And still there is One in whom all this falling
is endlessly, gently held in those hands.”
Love the snapshot, too, by the way.
Cam Miller says
Oh,I sense that Rilke is ever-relevant as you have revealed. Thanks for the shout-out from the midwest which is my place of birth. Rain and chill covers us both!